How to Stop Yourself From Jumping Straight to the Worst-Case Scenario
Last week I had food poisoning. (It’s OK — I’m fine now.) While up in the middle of the night dealing with stomach pains, I convinced myself I had appendicitis. Then, I started thinking through the possible consequences of my new diagnosis (other than imminent surgery and the loss of an organ, of course).
I’d have to use up my remaining sick days, and I wouldn’t be able to train for my half marathon. All of my projects would come to a halt and pile up, anxiously awaiting my return. I even drafted an email (in my head) to my editor about writing this very article.
Unfortunately, my appendix has decided to break up with me. I’m currently in the hospital and don’t think I’ll meet my deadline. Can we push it back?
Let me know!
A few hours later the pain ceased and I returned to my pre-panicked life. My tendency to prep for the worst-case scenario is not limited to the occasional stomachache. It bleeds over into most parts of my life and often shows up at work. This is called catastrophizing, or, in plainer words, it’s exactly what my mother meant when she told me I make mountains out of molehills.
And this is not exactly a trait that makes the list of desired skills and qualifications. Yes, it’s good to be a prepared employee. But there’s a very big difference between reviewing your PowerPoint before you present to a client and creating three entirely different options just in case your boss hates the first one.
Over-preparing, as any over-preparer knows, can serve as a major distraction and time suck. You spend so much time getting ready for the world to end that you can’t focus on the tasks that are actually on your to-do list.
Not to mention, it’s also an added stressor. You’ve convinced yourself that the worst possible thing that could happen will definitely happen. And now your mind (and body) is reacting to that false assumption. And as we all know, too much stress isn’t good for your health or productivity.
But yes, there will be some situations that’ll require you to do more planning than usual, and some that’ll cause you to (rightfully) push aside what you’re currently doing.
But not every issue falls into these two categories, and it’s important to be able to identify which ones do and which ones don’t. These two questions can help you do that.
1. What’s the Likelihood That This Will Actually Happen?
Don’t worry — you don’t need to pull out your high school stats book and review the principles of probability. But you do need to ask yourself this question. Because if the possibility is low, then it’s probably not something you need to dedicate any (or much) of your time and attention to.
For instance, if I’m bringing a speaker to campus, and we’ve already paid, signed contracts, and booked her transportation and hotel rooms, the chance that she’ll back out last minute and not show up is not very high. I don’t need to take up valuable brain space worrying about that.
On the other hand, if an event like commencement is planned outside on the quad, and 2,500 seniors will be matriculating with their loved ones in attendance, I should probably have an alternate rain location ready-to-go.
2. Are the Potential Impacts Major or Minor?
Let’s say the risk is high. The next question you need to ask yourself is what the outcomes could be if it does occur. In the case of the graduation, I can’t just say, “Oopsie! Lightening just struck the podium. Please go home and we’ll send your diplomas in the mail.”
But, let’s say it’s not a momentous life event. Instead, it’s a leisurely de-stress fest you’ve planned for students during finals week that involves coloring and corn hole. (Can you tell I’m speaking from experience here?)
If the forecast calls for pouring rain, you may have to end up canceling. And that’s OK. Sure, it’s a bummer, but that’s just the way the cookie crumbles sometimes. You didn’t put a ton of money into it, and you can schedule the event on another day or simply provide the students with other ways to manage stress and take a break from studying.
If the likelihood of the worst-case scenario becoming reality is high and you’ve determined that the potential outcomes could be disastrous, then you should table the rest of your to-do list for now and determine an action plan.
And, in most cases, you won’t need to do this alone. Don’t be afraid to reach out to your supervisor and other colleagues. If the issue is something that could be detrimental to your team, then it’s possibly damaging to the company as a whole, and others should be willing to lend you a hand.
At the end of the day, the point is that not every single potential problem needs to be made into a big deal. Save yourself time, energy, and inefficiency by stepping back to evaluating the situation before you move forward full speed ahead.
Originally published at www.themuse.com on February 16, 2017.